Just in case you might be disposed to treat all the Boys in Blue as strictly guardians of justice:
It's not just asset forfeiture being used by law enforcement to take property away from people. With civil asset forfeiture (as opposed to criminal asset forfeiture), property is deemed "guilty," even if its former possessors are not. Kaveh Waddell of The Atlantic is highlighting another way law enforcement agencies are taking possession of property: by calling it "evidence" and playing keep away with former defendants who've had their cases dismissed or have been acquitted.Last summer, Kenneth Clavasquin was arrested in front of the Bronx apartment he shared with his mother. While the 23-year-old was being processed, the New York Police Department took his possessions, including his iPhone, and gave him a receipt detailing the items in police custody. That receipt would be his ticket to getting back his stuff after his case ended.
But the ticket is worthless. His case was dismissed but no one involved in the seizure of his items showed any interest in returning them. He brought the court's dismissal to the NYPD to retrieve his iPhone but the property desk claimed it was being held as "arrest evidence" -- even though there were no more criminal charges forthcoming. He was sent to the District Attorney's office to ask for permission to obtain the no longer needed "evidence," but the office was less than interested in helping him reclaim his belongings.Clavasquin needed to get a release from the district attorney’s office stating that his property would no longer be needed for evidence. Over the following three months, he repeatedly called the assistant district attorney assigned to his case, but he neither got a release nor a written explanation of why he was being denied one.
Then, with the help of an attorney at the Bronx Defenders, a public-defender office that had been representing him since the day after his arrest, Clavasquin sent a formal written request for the district attorney’s release. He got no response.
Clavasquin's iPhone was seized in the summer of 2015. His case was dismissed in December. The phone is still in the possession of the NYPD while Clavasquin has continued making monthly service contract payments for a phone he can't use.
Clever, eh? If the iPhone is “evidence,” then clearly the police can’t release it; it might be critical to an investigation-to-be! What investigation, pray tell? We have no need to tell you.
The Police Department of the City of New York has long been regarded as a model for other urban law enforcement agencies. “New York’s finest” have been repeatedly held up as examples of bravery and thoroughness in the pursuit of justice. If the NYPD can be corrupted by the lure of ill-gotten gains, what law enforcement institution is immune?
Ever seen Prince of the City, Gentle Reader? Ever wonder how much of it is fiction and how closely it mirrors the true state of law-enforcement practice? Maybe you should.